UberX Will Launch in Miami Today, Defying Miami-Dade's Taxi Laws

After months of fruitless lobbying in Miami-Dade County and Tallahassee to change taxi laws in South Florida, app-based ride service Uber has decided to go the route of ride-sharing competitor Lyft and just ignore the regulations. Uber's own ride-sharing service, UberX, is launching in Miami today, braving mass fines and legal blowback from the county.

Beginning at noon, Miami riders will be able to request rides through their smartphones from Uber.

See also: Uber Goes Over Miami-Dade's Head and Takes Fight to Tallahassee

Uber's spokespeople confirmed this morning that starting today the company will offer free rides until June 20 to test-drive and promote the service in Dade County.

The move comes just two weeks after Lyft, a peer-to-peer ride-sharing service also based on a mobile app, set up shop in Miami despite running afoul of regulations.

Dade's taxi laws effectively ban both companies from operating legally; privately hired cars are supposed to wait an hour before pickup and charge at least $70 per ride. It's a law backed by the taxi union, which claims services such as Uber and Lyft would wreck their business.

Lyft, which uses prescreened, nonprofessional drivers who operate on a "suggested donation model," has already seen its drivers nailed with 11 fines totaling $22,000 by county regulators, the Miami Herald reports.

Uber's main business model is slightly different. Its drivers own their own black luxury cars, and riders agree to pay a set price determined by traffic and demand.

That service is not yet launching in Miami; instead, UberX -- which operates more like Lyft with a peer-to-peer network of drivers -- will set up shop.

Either way, the company will almost certainly face the same blowback from the county. The service apparently decided it's worth paying the regular fines to break into Miami-Dade.

Earlier this week, Uber posted job listings for a new office in Miami, suggesting this is a long-term move to infiltrate the area:

Uber sent Riptide a statement about the move:

Starting at noon today uberX launches in Miami. Over the past two years tens of thousands of South Florida residents and visitors have opened the Uber app to connect with a safe, reliable and affordable ride only to find their transportation needs couldn't be met. Today, Miami joins over 120 cities in 37 countries around the world where riders have more choices and drivers have access to more economic opportunities.

UberX is 27% cheaper than a taxi and is free until June 20. Since Uber is still in testing phase, there may be times when availability is limited.

A spokeswoman tells the Herald that the San Francisco-based company will continue working with regulators to try to change the laws. "What we're hearing more and more is an urging and an excitement to try to work to find a solution," Rachel Holt tells the daily.

In the meantime, expect fines to roll in and pressure to increase from the taxi union to fight the service.

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink